New Music Reviews

Robert Glasper’s The Mighty Tree: Transforming Jazz in the Modern Era

Herbie Hancock, Kamasi Washington and Rapsody team up with Robert Glasper to create a modern jazz crossover. Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington have been changing the face of modern jazz for years. Glasper has done some interesting tracks with one of my heroes, Erykah Badu where he seamlessly blends jazz with soul / hip hop. Recently, Glasper and Washington have teamed up to create two jazz records in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and police killings, which are: Dinner Party and its complimentary Dinner Party: Desert. The Mighty Tree employs traditional jazz methods mixed with with modern hip hop and Miles Davis inspired acid. The end product is a complex and interesting track that rewards multiple listens.

Let’s look at the traditional aspects of this jazz track. First off, you hear from the wonderful Herbie Hancock and some classic base beats, saxophone and keyboard, which resembles some of Glasper’s earlier work. At times Rapsody’s sublime rhyming is a cross between beat poetry and 1950s – 1960s scatting. However, these more traditional notes quickly give way to some modern twists on hip hop and acid.

In the midst of Rapsody’s performative beat poetry verses are illusions to African imagery and current race issues. She speaks about police violence, and crying “in the summer like a mutha fuck,” which is a reference to the number of police killings from Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, which happened in the spring and led to mass activism throughout the summer. Moreover, she refers to how she is descendent of mighty trees and deep roots, which harkens back to African heritage. Also, the reference to a mighty tree links that heritage to strength and history. I really enjoy how her lyrics work on a number of levels and complexities.

Hancock, Glasper and Washington take a turn in the middle of the track and move from more of a traditional beat vibe to full on Miles Davis Bitches Brew acid jazz as the track itself seems to fall apart like a sand castle at high tide. I see this turn as a reflection of the chaotic and fearful time we live in, especially for black men and women. It feels like the track cannot sustain itself under the weight of Rapsody’s vocal. It is difficult to make sense of the music within a time of senseless violence and murder in the streets. I may be reading too much into this change in tone, but Glasper is known for exploring complex social themes within his musical composition…so I think there is something in this tone shift.

Like all of Glasper’s work, his music is interesting and complex. Listening to his record is like watching a Christopher Nolan movie, in that you can enjoy the spectacle of it, but each time you see it you learn something new. Each time you listen to The Mighty Tree you hear something new and gain new insights. Get your headphones and give this track your attention. You won’t be disappointed.

Listen to The Mighty Tree

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